Racing: Alrassaam a trial blazer

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The Independent Online
LOOK BACK at these last three weeks of trials for the Guineas, at all the breath, air-time and trees expended in their name, and there is just one question left to be asked. Why do we bother? The latest 2,000 Guineas betting from William Hill has three co-favourites at 5-1, and two of those have not seen a racecourse since last season. Nor have the next pair of names in the list, while Mujahid, who produced the most porcine performance by an ante-post Classic favourite for many years in the Craven Stakes, is a 10-1 chance.

At first sight, it seems that the racing world has gone mad. In fact, it has merely changed, utterly, in the space of four or five seasons, which is barely the time it takes for a Classic winner to get his second crop of foals to the track. Though never a game which spread its favours freely, the real power in British Flat racing is now concentrated in a tiny handful of stables, most notably Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle, and the Newmarket yard where the Godolphin string is about to take up residence after a winter in Dubai. Neither is unduly worried about prep races for its Classic candidates - Godolphin even holds its own trial in the desert - and so the Guineas trials become ever more irrelevant.

Twelve months ago, they shared the Guineas, with King Of Kings winning the 2,000 for O'Brien, and Cape Verdi taking the 1,000 in Godolphin blue 24 hours later. Both were making their seasonal debuts, as were three of the previous four 2,000 Guineas winners. As the season's first Classic weekend approaches, the odds grow ever shorter that the sequence will continue, and only yesterday, O'Brien's Orpen and Sunspangled were strongly backed for their respective engagements at Newmarket.

One of the few trainers who does still like to give his Classic horses a run is Henry Cecil, but he too may wonder why he bothers. Enrique scrambled home in the Greenham Stakes, while Killer Instinct was beaten at 2-5 in a maiden on the same card. The latter was taken out of the 2,000 Guineas at the next available opportunity. The colt who beat him, though, is still in the race, and building up a fair head of steam in the betting too.

Alrassaam was 33-1 when he beat Killer Instinct, and the same price for the Classic immediately afterwards. Now, he is down to 14-1 as punters search for an each-way chance who they can be sure, on recent evidence, has a leg at each corner, and a portion of talent.

Nor is the quiet confidence of Michael Jarvis, Alrassaam's trainer, putting anyone off. "He's fit and well, he worked this morning and he pleased us. He's done well since he ran," Jarvis said yesterday. "Whether he wins the Guineas or not, I believe he's a very decent horse."

The lack of credit for Alrassaam's performance against Killer Instinct is of no concern to his trainer. "We're not such a big stable, we've got only 50 horses, so we get used to it," Jarvis said. As for his colt's ever-shortening price, "he's asleep in his box, so he doesn't know what price he is".

There were no last-minute entrances to the Guineas stage this weekend, although it is interesting that Godolphin's Easaar, who won the Newmarket maiden in which Alrassaam finished unplaced on his debut last October, attracted backing from 50-1 to 33-1 yesterday.

Looking further ahead, Montjeu may find followers in the Derby betting, after his success in the Prix Greffulhe at Longchamp yesterday. The colt is owned by Michael Tabor and trained by John Hammond. Another Derby hope, Way Of Light, could finish only fifth in the Prix de Fontainebleau. The winner of that race, Andre Fabre's Indian Danehill, was last in the Dewhurst Stakes, but now goes to the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) with a strong chance.

2,000 Guineas (Saturday) William Hill: 5-1 Commander Collins (from 4- 1), Enrique, Orpen (from 6-1), 8-1 Island Sands, Stravinsky, 10-1 Mujahid, 12-1 Auction House, Compton Admiral, 14-1 Alrassaam, 20-1 Brancaster, 33-1 Adair, Bahamian Bandit, Easaar (from 50-1), Exeat, Saffron Waldon, 40-1 others

1,000 Guineas (Sunday) William Hill: 4-1 Moiava, 5-1 Sunspangled (from 6-1), 6-1 Etizaaz, 10-1 Mother Of Pearl, 12-1 Valentine Waltz (from 14- 1), 14-1 Calando, 16-1 Imperial Beauty, Wince, Zahrat Dubai, 20-1 others

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Bessie Browne

(Plumpton 4.30)

NB: Keen Hands

(Southwell 3.45)

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